Have you ever felt the thrill of knowing that hundreds follow -in real time- every sentence you type? Have you experienced the excitement of moderating a live discussion amongst dozens of people, spread all over the world, from your keyboard? The exhilaration of trying to catch what you see and hear, and convert it into captions of 140 characters…?
Welcome to the world of “Live Tweeting”!
Live tweeting: the screwdriver in the social reporter’s toolkit
More and more conferences and workshops use social media to report live from the event. Dubbed “Social reporting”, this live crowdsourced reporting is a mesh of live blogging, podcasting, vlogging, webcasting and real time online discussions. Social reporting has become THE way to involve an online public, with onsite events.
“Live Tweeting” is the most interactive social media tool used to broadcast live snapshots and to moderate online discussions.
And there you have it: the two key factors why we live tweet from conferences:
- Broadcast snapshots: “sound bytes”, quotes, interesting facts, figures, statements, links to reference material,… all condensed into single tweets. Mixed with an occasional picture, short video snapshot, links to the presentations (on Slideshare of course) given at that very moment, and you have all the ingredients of giving a offsite (but online) public an “impression” of what is happening at an event.
- Moderate online discussions: With its ability to monitor incoming comments and questions, and to moderate a live online discussion, Twitter is the best suited tool to integrate an offsite public into an onsite discussion.
But, live tweeting, as many social media and social reporting tools, is a combination of an art and a skill.
Imagine this scenario: You are part of a group of 50 social reporters at a conference on climate change. Each of the social reporters has been assigned a task, and you are to live tweet from one of the conference sessions. The session is a presentation by, say, Dr.Amrit Mukhbar from an NGO called “Crossed Green”, and tackles the impact of urbanization in developing countries, on global climate change.
You are to live tweet this session with two of your colleagues.
How will you tackle that? Well, you can just step into the auditorium and start shooting off tweets, or… you can follow my ten tips for live tweeting champions:
Tip 1: Prepare your cheat sheet
I always have a text-only notepad (flat ASCII text, no formatting), where I prepare my notes, ready to copy and paste into live tweets.
I will always have a couple of things on that notepad window:
- The correct spelling of the speakers’ names, including their Twitter handle
- The correct spelling of the speakers’ organisation (in full and their abbreviation), and their Twitter handle
- A list of links to reference material, all pre-shortened with bit.ly of course. Behind the bit.ly link, I note (for myself) what this link is about
- The conference hashtag: you might laugh, but the less I have to think during live tweeting, the better. So I’d rather copy and paste the hashtag, than having to stop my brain for 5 seconds to recall that darned hashtag again. And miss-spell it along the way…
- A number of pre-cooked tweets, which I can use as “fillers”, if we have some dead time. I can pre-cook these tweets from the conference abstracts, reading material, or session announcement in the conference proceedings…
And beyond that, my notepad will also have a field, which I use to “construct” live tweets, as I never compose tweets in a live Twitter tool (“OMG, I hit return before I finished my tweet. OMG, I am gonna die!!” #AvoidThatFeeling !).
I pre-format that field, with a heading showing the length of the tweet (using an even-spaced font like “Courier”):
00 10 20 30 40 50 130 123456789012345678901234567890123456789012345678901234567890 (..) 0123
Underneath this heading, I will compose my tweets.
Note that the maximum number of characters I use in a tweet, is “140 minus the length of (RT+space+my handle)” to facilitate people who want to retweet me in the old “RT”-way. (“RT @handle”)
Tip 2: Cheat as much as you can
Some speakers will prepare their speech on forehand. Your life as a live tweeter, will be 100x easier, if you can get hold of that speech, and convert it into a series of pre-cooked tweets. Or get a copy of the speaker’s presentation.
The only thing to do, during the speech itself, is to copy and paste the pre-cooked tweets into a Twitter tool.
Tip 3: Find a proper place to sit
Find a spot where you can plug your laptop charger. Most conference sessions last longer than your battery. Find a spot where you can hear and see well, and where you have space to spread out your stuff. Most conferences provide WiFi coverage, but not all spots in the room might have proper reception. I have a tool on my laptop which measures the WiFi signal strength. That is why, when I live tweet, you will see me walking around the conference hall with my laptop in my hand, well before the session starts.
Tip 4: Huddle together with the other social reporters
If you live tweet with several people, from the same session, sit together. It makes it so much easier to “divide up” the work, and to verify, if what you heard, is correct (“Did he just say “200,000 people migrate to urban areas per year, or was that per day?”). Avoid tweeting the same quote – or even worse – the same passage but with conflicting quotes or numbers.
Tip 5: Make sure you tweet the quotes correctly
As most of your tweets will be quotes and sound bytes, attributed to the speaker, make sure that every tweet is correct. Avoid the embarrassment of having to publish rectifications after the event!
And, attribute your tweets. Most of my live tweets have the format:
Name_of_speaker: [quote] #[conferencehashtag]
Mukhbar: Per day 200,000 people migrate from rural to urban settings #GoGreen
Tip 6: Live with the fact that you can never tweet fast enough
It will take minutes for you to compose one single live tweet. Live with the fact that you will never be able to tweet as fast as someone speaks.
Tip 7: How to select which quote to tweet
I listen to my heart beat, while attending a presentation. When I hear something that raises my heartbeat, then that must be an interesting passage or quote. If it excites me, it will excite my online public. And that will be my indicator for a tweet-able quote.
Tip 8: Tune in and tune out
Once I grab a sound byte which would be interesting to tweet, I stop listening to the speaker, and concentrate solely on converting that quote into my 140 characters tweet (or 140 characters minus the space left to retweet).
One more reason to sit together with your fellow social reporters: Once you tune out, you can give a sign to others “I am out, and you are in”: you’re no longer listening, so it is time for others to listen and catch a quote.
Tip 9: Beef up your tweets with links
When you can relate one quote to the piece of reference material, for further reading (something you might have prepared before the session), embed that bit.ly link within your tweet.
Tip 10: Monitor and moderate the online conversation
If I live tweet alone from a session, I always have my laptop for the actual live tweeting, and a tablet to separately monitor the conference hashtag for incoming questions and remarks, and to moderate the discussions. My time will be split between capturing quotes, tweeting them and monitoring the discussions.
If you live tweet with several social reporters from the same session, you might allocate one social reporter for the online moderation.
And people ask me: what is an acceptable rate for a good live tweeter. My answer is: it depends on the speech or presentation. Some presentations are so boring, I might only be able to find five quotable tweets in an hour. Others are so interesting, I can not tweet fast enough to capture it all, but live a happy life knowing I broadcasted 20-30 tweets in an hour.
…While knowing every single tweet was correct.
Happy live tweeting!
Picture courtesy Sara Jawhari (Electronic Intifada)